Over 36.7 million people worldwide, including 1.2 million people in the USA are HIV positive. HIV-associated sensory neuropathy (HIV-SN) is the most frequent neurological manifestation of HIV and is characterized as a distal symmetrical, predominantly sensory, polyneuropathy. HIV-SN may represent 2 clinically indistinguishable neuropathies with distinct pathogenesis: a distal axonal degeneration caused by interaction of sensory neurons with HIV-associated proteins such as gp120 and Tat and also an anti-retroviral therapy (ART)-induced toxic neuropathy, ART may also potentiate the HIV-SN induced by HIV proteins. Recent studies have implicated mitochondrial dysfunction in the pathogenesis of HIV-SN and disruption of neuronal mitochondrial biogenesis and quality control (biogenesis-mitophagy axis) occurs in HIV-SN patients. There is no current treatment that targets a pathological process underlying HIV-SN, but the emerging appreciation of the role of mitochondrial dysfunction in the underlying pathogenesis provides a potential therapeutic approach. The academic founders of WinSanTor recently reported that neurite outgrowth from peripheral sensory neurons is under a cholinergic constraint mechanism mediated by type 1 muscarinic receptors (M1R). Stimulation of the M1R restrains mitochondrial function, thereby limiting neuronal energy supply and neurite growth. Conversely, inhibition of M1R activates AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) with subsequent enhancement of mitochondrial bioenergetic function and neurite regeneration. M1R inhibition also prevents and reverses indices of distal degenerative neuropathy in animal models of diabetic and chemotherapy-induced neuropathy. These promising findings suggest that the therapeutic efficacy of M1R antagonists has the potential to extend across diverse peripheral neuropathies in which mitochondrial function is compromised. We have recently found that mouse models that overexpress HIV-associated proteins exhibit mitochondrial dysfunction and develop symptoms of neuropathy. Further, reduced neurite outgrowth from sensory neurons exposed to the HIV protein gp120 in vitro was prevented by treatment with the M1R antagonist pirenzepine, while loss of corneal nerves induced by delivery of gp120 to the eye of normal mice was both prevented and reversed by concurrent topical application of a M1R antagonist. Based on these results, the goal of this Phase I STTR project is to 1) evaluate efficacy of pirenzepine against neuropathy in mice expressing HIV-Tat protein; 2) evaluate efficacy of pirenzepine against neuropathy in mice expressing HIV-gp120 protein with concurrent ART therapy. Successful completion of this Phase I project will support further pre-clinical development of pirenzepine as a novel therapeutic for treatment of HIV- SN. In Phase II, we will further define the safety/toxicology profiles of pirenzepine to support filing of an IND application with the FDA.

Public Health Relevance

HIV-associated sensory neuropathy (HIV-SN) is the most frequent neurological manifestation of HIV disease, and the available therapies are limited to minimizing discomfort rather than treating nerve damage. WinSanTor is developing a novel therapeutic approach for HIV-SN based on their discovery of a cholinergic mechanism that regulates cellular energy supply in sensory neurons and on the recent insights into the pathophysiological processes in HIV-SN induced by HIV proteins and antiretroviral therapy (ART).

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Grants - Phase I (R41)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Fertig, Stephanie
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Winsantor, Inc.
San Diego
United States
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